Author: Ian Morgan
Read Time: 9-10 minutes, 1,543 words
Archive: This author's other articles
Full disclosure, I loved Brand New. Before the release of their latest album, I had listened to them with constant and unwavering awe for the last 15 years. I had attended every show that they had headlined in my native Scotland, including when they played an intimate style show at Glasgow University's School of Art that had sold out almost instantly. I'd obsessed over Vincent Accardi's guitar riffs, pored over Jesse Lacey's lyrics and dreamed of writing a song as good as 'The Boy That Blocked His Own Shot', or pretty much any of the songs that graced the classic album of this article's title. As such, when it came to hearing their latest, and final, album, 'Science Fiction', I approached the digesting of it with the respect a Brand New record commands: no distractions; no passive listening; no awful ear-buds or tinny phone speakers. Only dedicated and focused attention without any interruption, would suffice.
Eight long years in the making; it did not disappoint. Rather, it surpassed all expectations that had been established by the handful of songs that they had released between their last full length album, the under-rated, 'Daisy' and this new album. Instantly, I was aggressively listening to it on repeat, as if it would somehow stop existing if I were to divert my attention toward something else. Melancholy, regret, vulnerability and beautifully prolonged misery were skilfully sewn through each of the 12 tracks. Dark, brooding and able to evoke a feeling of anxiousness in the listener. Brand New had once again defied the rules of popularity by creating a deeply unsettling album that was also chalk full of hooks and memorable lines. Incredibly dense and multi-faceted songs were being expertly disguised as pop singles. The legacy was complete. The final album was a masterpiece; both critically acclaimed and loved by fans. However, almost as instantly as this had been concluded, the album, the back catalogue, the band, and the legacy were tainted. The content of old songs took on new meaning, and the feeling of awe changed to something that tasted a bit more like a bitter cocktail of betrayal and hurt.
For the unaware, this pivotal moment, can be read about here (although the original thread has been deleted), and Jessie Lacey's acknowledgment and response can be read here.
It was first brought to my attention whilst I was aimlessly wasting my life away, scrolling through my Instagram feed where one of my good friends had posted a picture of the contents of his bin, atop which sat the now iconic artwork of Brand New's third album, 'The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me'. The hashtag accompanying the CD was, #GetInTheBinBrandNew. What was this sacrilege, I asked myself? Heresy! The comments under the picture gave me a sinking feeling in my gut, and a quick search through some online articles cemented this misery. I'd watched on as many other people's heroes had been ousted as disgusting sexual predators as part of the incredibly important #metoo movement; but now it had happened to mine. Lacey didn't deny it in the aforementioned reactionary comment, however, he also did not directly acknowledge the victim, rather hinting at having more victims in his past but that he had worked on changing and correcting his behaviour. The statement rang hollow with me. It was the 'Tiger Woods defence' that I had laughed at and mocked in the past. Sex addiction. Turning the problem around to be about perpetrator rather than the people that had felt exploited, used, manipulated and abused by their actions. Listening yet again to feeble claims of, "It's not my fault, I have a disease. You can't criticise me, I have a disease".
At the same time that the outrage was boiling inside me, another part of my brain was battling against it. Perhaps in a bid to save the perception I had of the band and their legacy. Or perhaps a valid argument for forgiveness. Had I not done awful things in my past? Hurt people, used people, cheated on people? Would I not have been an even worse human if I also had went from being some nerd to a rock god, with the unadulterated adulation of thousands of young women? I'd like to think I wouldn't have but, if I am being honest, I couldn't categorically say that if I were in the same position at 20-25 years old that I wouldn't have acted in the same appalling way as Lacey. It is a sad thing to admit, and something that is often overlooked in articles I have read surrounding the fallout from the #metoo movement. Everyone correctly writes about their outrage; however, few acknowledge their own shortcomings and the fact that all of us are completely flawed and many of us are weak. It is also hard for us to comprehend as keyboard bashing troglodytes, a life where you are adored wherever you go and just how much of a narcissist this could make you become.
The other argument (or was it a justification?) that kept coming to me was; as a left wing, liberal, should I not acknowledge a person's ability to rehabilitate? Do I not look towards Norway's judicial system, the most lenient in the world, but with the least reoffending statistics, as some kind of utopia? If, as Lacey states, he recognised his shortcomings long ago and has made strides toward changing them, should we not accept this? Should anyone with any degree of fame be exempt from the ability to be flawed, but ultimately to develop? Is this another example of the Western world's delight in building people up only to ensure that they crash down in a Britney Spears-esque media circus? Possibly, but that doesn't take into account the pain and helplessness the victims feel at being ignored, humiliated, used, silenced, intimidated and gagged. Imagine someone you hated, someone that you know for a fact had done terrible things, was revered by everyone else. Their image perpetually displayed alongside unabashed adulation. How would that make you feel?
After the initial allegation, more quickly followed, with all of the women (who were young at the times of the crimes) told of being manipulated by the older, and by now relatively famous, Lacey. The top comment on Lacey's Facebook statement is from another such victim and makes for harrowing reading. Alongside these additional claims were far more people who were standing up in defence of Lacey and claiming that these women were attention seeking liars, or worse. The type of behaviour that makes it so hard for women to ever feel brave enough to speak out about the terrible things that they have had to endure. There were men and indeed many other women, trying to pick holes in the story, right down to debating the year that Skype was released. It was pretty pathetic, and I couldn't bring myself to read through all of the comments. As such, I don't want this article to be about that. I want women to always feel safe about speaking up, and I stand in solidarity with them. Which brings us to the crux of this discussion. Should I no longer listen to Brand New?
History is littered with geniuses who have created masterful works but were themselves awful people, guilty of hideous crimes. Our museums are filled with the works of art created by deeply flawed artists. Some of our most poignant poems are created by anti-Semitic, racist, wife-beating lunatics. People still flock to the latest films by Roman Polanski and Woody Allen. 'Catcher in the Rye' is taught in our schools. Musicians rank high amongst the alleged, and confirmed, offenders. Steven Tyler, Jimmy Page, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, David Bowie, pretty much every 1970s rock act are all alleged to have done awful things in their pasts, yet are rarely vilified, in fact they are worshipped. People still dance to Michael Jackson at weddings. Lost Prophets still have 195,767 Monthly listeners on Spotify, and their singer's crimes are so outlandish, they could be mistaken as the work of fiction. Can we separate the art from the artist, and is it right to do so? Should we deprive ourselves of amazing sculptures, paintings, poems, books, films and music because those who created them have sullied their legacies by committing despicable crimes?
I, for one, have been trying to make this separation and to continue to enjoy the music of Brand New. However, the melancholy and heartache in these songs that used to resonate so strongly within, now in some small way grates against me. I still love their music, but there has been a definite change to the way I digest it. In this modern world of uninterrupted 24 hour news, blogs, opinion pieces and message boards, it may be harder to ignore the crimes until they disappear from the spotlight than it was in years gone by, and this can only be a good thing for the victims of these crimes, who are brave enough to stand up, raise their hands and say, 'me too'.
Ian Morgan is on Twitter: @IanMorganWords